I can’t believe I actually DID this race. Right now I’m happy it’s over, sore, and deep in thought about how it went, how it felt, etc. Here is how it went:
First, I can came very close to not doing this race at all. Our travels have been very stressful and I have had at least 3 moments where I thought my mental health was certainly at it’s bottom and things couldn’t get any worse, only to have yet another meltdown a couple of days (or hours) later. The night before the race was one of those times. We got up at 5:30 due to our 11 month old alarm clock (Jack), who has been sleeping worse and worse the longer we are away from home. Then we had to travel in the rain from Anna Maria Island up to Wesley Chapel via the Manatee Viewing Center in Bradenton to see manatees and the Brandon Mall for a stop at the Apple Store. After visiting with my dad for a couple hours, we drove farther north for another 45 minutes to packet pickup and then 15 minutes to our hotel. At this point it was Jack’s bedtime and we hadn’t eaten dinner yet. We were at a highway exit with nothing but a Cracker Barrel and fast food restaurants, so we chose Wendy’s. Andrew went to get the food and had to wait 15 minutes for them to COOK CHICKEN!?!?! By the time he got back, Jack was totally over life and screaming his head off, which led us both to frustration and a complete depletion of patience.
After eating my chili and the chicken out of a sandwich was fast as possible while feeding Jack, we put him to bed and I totally melted down. I told Andrew I wanted to wake up in the morning and go to the airport to fly home (I know, I am such a brat and I am embarrassed to write this). He was so awesome, despite being totally drained himself. The best way I can describe what he did for me was that he WAS me when I couldn’t be myself. He put me to bed at 7PM, set his alarm, and after I went to sleep he wrote me a bunch of notes and stuck them all around the hotel room with toothpaste! It is only thanks to him that I did the race.
So, if you are still with me you may want to hear a little bit about the race itself.
It was beautiful and I can’t believe that in all the time I lived in Tampa I never ran on the Croom trails. I had been on the Rails to Trails section before (I’ve done 2 centuries there) but never the trails. They were really awesome and fun. There were sections that were traditional Florida pine, sections that were scorched from forest fires, sections that were so green it hurt my heart, sections that were along (and in) a lake/river (up to my upper thighs!!). It was almost completely a one loop course, with only a few miles (if that) that we traveled more than once! What a treat.
What I ate: I didn’t take anything with me and lived off the course. I saw ONE other person that wasn’t running with water, but it worked out just fine for me. The longest I had to go between aid stations was about 4 miles and I never felt like I needed anything in between. It helped that while it was warm out it was overcast. I had nothing but water until mile 14.5. Then I ate a mix of Coke, M&Ms, gummi bears, salt and potassium pills, peanuts, a banana, and Gatorade. I only had a little bit of these things but some of them (not sure exactly what it was but I suspect the Coke) made my stomach immediately go bad, fixed only by a trip into the woods for a potty break. I thought it was the gummi bears (which I had with Coke) the first time but it happened again after I had Coke only at mile 26.5. The thing that seemed work best for me was the banana.
How It Felt: I knew this was going to be hard, considering my longest run was a couple of months ago and was only 17 miles. It was harder than I anticipated and it hurt, but in the same way my training hurts. Energy-wise I felt ok, but my legs hurt. I wore my brand new Merrell Bare Access shoes that I got last week (a half-size bigger) and ran in once before the race and I was lucky that worked out ok but I seriously need to consider a more cushioned shoe for long stuff in the future. My poor sticks.
While it was harder than I expected, I did run pretty much the entire thing. In the second half I walked for a minute or two after each aid station and up some hills but other than that I managed to run the entire race. I’m happy about that but I also noticed that I seemed to be the only person after the race that could barely move. I guess everyone else there was a more seasoned ultra-runner than I was!
I didn’t use any technology so I had no splits and there were no mile markers. The only time I knew the mileage was when I hit an aid station. That worked out GREAT until the last 6-8 miles when each mile felt longer and longer and longer. I learned that ultras follow a power law: the last 2 miles were exponentially harder than the first 25! I had never experienced anything like that before in a running race or a triathlon. I really had to dig deep to find things to keep me running in those last 6.5 miles. The 4 mile stretch between the 26.5 aid station and the 31 aid station was endless. And then the last 2.5 miles? The longest run of my life. I couldn’t walk because I wanted to finish as quickly as I could. And honestly it hurt less to run. I just focused on how much I couldn’t wait to see Andrew and Jack and that got me through. When I saw them right before the finish line I couldn’t even talk because I knew I would burst into tears. Man, that was rough.
Final thoughts: I am so glad I did this right before Jack turns 1. It feels good to have gotten back in shape and done something for myself in the year after having a baby, even if it was stressful and hard much of the time. I am ready to dial back my running and get started on lifting weights to get rid of this runner’s body – I have NO definition ANYWHERE and my butt is flat as a pancake. I’m also just so excited that I did every step of training for this race in ketosis and without any sports nutrition – how awesome is that!!